The ultimate underdog story may be Matt Cassel who, despite having never started a game in college, parlayed a successful USC Pro Day, and one Tom Brady injury into a $63 million contract with the Chiefs. While his first year with the Chiefs was far below expectations, things were not entirely his fault, so does 2010 promise a much rosier outlook for both him and the Chiefs offense? Let’s take a look…
The emergence of Jamaal Charles and additions of Thomas Jones behind him and Ryan Lilja and Casey Weigman in front of him has 2010 promising to bring a much better recipe for success for Cassel and the Chiefs offense. Lilja and Wiegmann will add depth and veteran leadership to an offensive line that was downright offensive in 2009, surrendering 45 sacks, including 42 to Cassel. Now Cassel has to shoulder some of the blame (he does have the tendency to hold the ball for too long) the line still should improve in 2010, especially if the Chiefs draft a franchise left tackle in the first round. The 2010 Chiefs should be able to move the ball a lot better, now that they have a powerful running game to lean on, alleviating much of the pressure from Cassel, and in turn, increasing his overall touchdown potential.
Perhaps the biggest asset boosting Cassel’s fantasy value might be the Chiefs’ resigning of Chris Chambers this offseason. Chambers developed a very solid rapport with Cassel after his mid-season acquisition. He will continue to be relied upon heavily as Cassel’s primary possession receiver - he caught at least 3 passes and 50+ yards in seven of the nine games that he played with the Chiefs, including two triple digit yardage games, and four touchdowns.
Opposite Chambers is Dwayne Bowe, who must get out of Todd Haley’s doghouse, put the abysmal suspension/dropped ball laden-2009 campaign behind him and re-establish himself as the playmaking receiver that he was in his first two seasons in Kansas City. Cassel struggled mightily during Bowe’s four game suspension; posting 9 of his 19 turnovers during that brief stretch. It is obvious that Cassel needs Bowe in order to have successful season and if Cassel and Bowe can develop chemistry with one another, then this Chiefs offense really has a chance to take off and become an elite unit.
While some may argue that the Chiefs need a third option to emerge or that the Chiefs need to make a move for another receiving option, I say they already have a third weapon in Jamaal Charles. Aside from his explosiveness in the running game, Charles caught 40 passes for nearly 300 yards in 2009 despite seeing limited action in the first seven weeks.
I think Charles' role in the receiving game will only continue to grow in 2010. Anyone who watched a Chiefs game last year knows that Charles is Chris Johnson-lite in that even the simplest and nonchalant of plays can quickly turn into a big play touchdown. Charles is one of the more dynamic and electrifying players in the league.
Also, while the Chiefs have upgraded their offense they still have not made any major splashes on the defensive side of the ball, and unless GM Scott Pioli has a big trade up his sleeve, you can expect one of the league’s worst defensive units to remain exactly that. This will force Cassel & Co. to continue playing from behind, forcing plenty of pass attempts and increasing Cassel's stats across the board. As a matter of fact, 12 of Cassel’s 16 touchdown passes in 2009 came in the second half. I expect more of the same in 2010.
Ultimately though, this is going to be Jamaal Charles’ offense with Cassel serving as a game manager. He'll be expected to protect the ball until the 4th quarter where (due to the Chiefs’ defensive ineptitude) he will have to air it out.
The addition of Thomas Jones further solidifies the fact that this will be a run-first team, although that isn’t necessarily terrible for Cassel’s fantasy value (as a stronger running game will lead to sustained drives and a higher touchdown ratio) but you should not draft Cassel expecting him to even approach QB1 numbers.
You could do worse than drafting Cassel as your QB2, but I would rather draft one with a higher ceiling such as Matthew Stafford or Joe Flacco. There are still too many question marks surrounding Cassel for 2010 purposes but he is worth keeping an eye on in keeper leagues.
For the purpose of 2010 he is nothing more than a mediocre QB2, putting up an occasional big game, but the average week being thoroughly vanilla.